OPINION: IT'S MORE FUNDS IN THE PHILIPPINES
 

MANILA, OCTOBER 7, 2013 (PHILSTAR) COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva - President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III has embarked on the first of his three trips scheduled to take place one after the other this month.

President Aquino flew yesterday to Bali, Indonesia where he is attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit. He immediately returns to Manila tomorrow night.

On Wednesday, P-Noy flies next to Brunei Darussalam to attend the yearly Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Summit on October 9-10.

Both the APEC and ASEAN Leaders’ Summit meetings are obligatory trips that P-Noy – who is supposed to be averse to foreign travels – has to take as part of the country’s international commitments.

On Oct. 17 to 18, President Aquino will fly to Seoul for the first time to meet with his South Korean counterpart, President Park Geun-hye. The first woman President of South Korea invited P-Noy for a state visit in Seoul.

For this year alone, P-Noy was out of the country on three official trips abroad.

P-Noy traveled to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January. He then went to Brunei for the first of the twice a year ASEAN Leaders’ summit that was held in April. The President attended the WEF on East Asia held in Myanmar last June. He had mentioned about a possible trip to Japan later in December.

Before P-Noy goes to Seoul, United States President Barack Obama is supposed to come here in Manila for a state visit on October 11 and 12. However, due to the budget row between the White House and the US Congress, Mr.Obama skipped attending the APEC Summit and the East Asia Summit in Brunei.

The White House also cancelled previously scheduled side trips to the Philippines and Malaysia by Mr. Obama on the way back to Washington.

While the US government shuts down without a new budget law, our government continues to operate even if Congress fails to approve a new budget law before the end of the year.

As provided for in Article 6 Section 25 (7) of our country’s 1987 Constitution, the Philippine government can operate under a “re-enacted” budget. Or this is the previous year’s Congress-approved budget law that automatically takes effect on day one of the new fiscal year.

Thanks to that provision of the country’s Constitution crafted during the term of P-Noy’s late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, the Philippines does not face such danger of paralysis of government offices being forced to close down. Though temporary, still public services have to be suspended because simply there is no budget to pay for federal workers as in the case of the US government.

But as far as P-Noy is concerned, the “re-enacted” budget has become a great source of corruption during the nine and a half years of his immediate predecessor.

In his speech last week, P-Noy noted the former administration of ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was able to pass the budget law on time only once during her entire term.

During those years the government operated under “re-enacted” budget, P-Noy deplored anew how the previous administration misused public funds and allowed his predecessor so much leeway to re-align savings, most of which lined the pockets of the corrupt.

For the past three years he has been in office, P-Noy made sure the General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill is approve by Congress early so that before December 31, he could sign this into law. So there is no more re-enacted budget.

Of the three budget laws so far under his administration, P-Noy though took exception to the GAA of 2011 – a budget bill drafted by the Arroyo administration that he inherited.

But in his 2012 and 2013 budget laws, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad disclosed P-Noy approved the re-alignment of savings and gave them to the pet projects of senators and congressmen in the budgets of specific government agencies.

Justifying the Aquino administration’s version of how government “savings” must be spent in accordance with the law, Abad revealed they came up with a system called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Over the weekend, the Palace-issued Official Gazette published the constitutional and legal basis cited by the DBM by which President Aquino approved the controversial releases of funds to the senators and congressmen through DAP.

Specifically, the DBM invoked Section 25 (5), Article VI of the Constitution. It states: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items in their respective appropriations.”

To obviously appease the public outcry of this previously unheard of presidential source of pork barrel, Abad announced the savings in the third quarter this year would no longer be channeled to lawmakers. Instead, it would be used to fund the rehabilitation of siege-stricken Zamboanga City.

At the height of the furor over “pork barrel” scam that allegedly made businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles richer out of taxpayers’ money, President Aquino earlier suspended the release of the remaining Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for the rest of this year and eventually abolishing it starting next year’s budget.

P-Noy’s fourth budget bill is in the advanced stage of legislative mill in the 16th Congress. The Lower House approved on second reading the proposed 2014 budget bill before they went into recess last September 28. When sessions resume on October 14, the House will approve the budget bill on third and final reading and transmit this to the Senate.

The proposed P2.268-trillion budget for next year is P200 billion more than this year’s Congress-approved budget. With releases of PDAF and DAP suspended, obviously there are more funds now available in the budget.

To ride on the popularity of our tourism campaign slogan, this means: It’s more funds in the Philippines!


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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